The extent, cost and rights of agency workers deployed across the public services was debated at NIPSA’s Annual Delegate Conference today. NIPSA General Secretary, Alison Millar, commented:
“NIPSA has continued to highlight how, as our members struggle through almost a decade of austerity during which we are told “there is no money”, tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money continues to be paid to private sector employment agencies. This overpriced “sticking plaster” fails to deal with the real crises in our public services – low pay, staff shortages and job insecurity. These flow from a consistent failure of central and devolved governments to undertake the appropriate long-term approach to planning and investment.
Whilst discussion of public finance is dominated by declarations that ‘we can’t afford’ to invest more in public services, our research shows that a vast amount of public money is spent on the deployment of agency staff – including exorbitant management fees being paid out to private sector employment agencies. This is a failure of manpower planning and an indictment of the failure to address severe staffing shortages across the public sector. This is shown most clearly in those areas that have supposedly come through their latest reform phase: the Civil Service, for example, (with fewer Departments and after a Voluntary Exit Scheme) still spends over £11 million a year on agency staff; local government post-RPA has spent well over £50 million since 2014 whilst Health and Social Care, in which there are hundreds of long-term vacancies, had a non-medical agency spend of over £200 million between 2010/11-2015/6.
As well as a scandal of under-investment the delivery model this has created within our public services is one built on employment insecurity, low pay and reduced employment rights. NIPSA’s opposition to this therefore will be to not only challenge the ideologically driven casualisation of our public services but also to continue to campaign for the reform of our labour laws in order to give the fullest employment protection for all workers (however recruited) who carry out the vital work of delivering our public services.”